International Law

Can Syria’s Rebels Restore the Rule of Law?

Syrian Attorney Mohammed Haj Hussein is attempting to create an impartial legal system in territory held by rebels. The goal is to provide justice that has been lacking in President Bashar al-Assad's authoritarian regime.

On a positive note, the new system relies upon an impartial judiciary and evidentiary standards for both military and civilian cases. In other words, it is more likely to provide a fair trial than al-Assad's corrupt judiciary. 

However, Attorney Hussein's system for bringing justice is based upon Sharia law. As such, it is inherently flawed when it comes to protecting fundamental human rights for women and non-Muslims. The presumption of innocence until proven guilty also appears to be lacking.

There is also the matter of war crimes committed by both sides of the current civil war. Will the perpetrators of these human rights violations be brought to justice regardless of which side they fought for in the current conflict? In other words, if the al-Assad regime falls, will the rebels' new legal system mete out justice impartially or turn a blind eye to the war crimes committed by some of their comrades-in-arms?

Nevertheless, the perfect should not be the enemy of the good. Attorney Hussein's stated goal to improve the rule of law should be supported by the international community. The al-Assad government has one of the worst human rights records in the world. For the regime, "rule of law" means arbitrary arrest of dissidents, torture, rape, and murder. 

With the right incentives, a Syrian system of justice can mature to protect human rights for all through the impartial application of the rule of law. Specifically, economic and other aid should be tied to judicial reforms that include:

1. Equal rights for non-Muslims.

2. Equal rights for women.

3. A presumption of innocence in criminal cases.

Recommended Reading 

A legal window in Syria's Jabal al-Zawiyah, Al Jazeera (Nov. 28, 2012)

World Report 2012: Syria, Human Rights Watch